Chicago beaches open Friday, but is Lake Michigan clean enough to swim in?

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Chicago beaches open for the summer on Friday, but is the lake water clean enough to swim in? (WLS)

Chicago beaches open for the summer on Friday, but is the lake water clean enough to swim in?

Around 7 a.m. on every beach in Chicago, a Park District employee collects a container full of lake water that is then driven to UIC's Department of Public Health.

Water samples from 28 beaches are taken to the lab for bacteria testing - a process that occurs seven days a week during the swim season. Results are ready within hours.

"This is cutting edge, there is no city in the world that does what Chicago does to promptly notify the public about problems at the beaches,"said Dr. Sam Dorevitch, UIC Dept. of Public Health.

Same day results are due to a high-tech DNA based testing method. "This method is quick because we don't culture the bacteria on a petri dish, we measure the DNA using some new technology that works quickly."

The public can view the results on the Chicago Park District website every day. With the exception of heavy rainfalls, high bacteria alerts are rare.

"We've worked really hard to improve our water quality here and keep our beaches as clean as we can," said Cathy Breitenbach, Chicago Park District.

The reverse flow of the Chicago River helps. Unlike other cities, waste water flows into the river rather then the lake.

In addition, during the past few years, the Chicago Park District has made physical improvements to beaches to curb the flow of storm water into the lake.

"We've also done a lot of public education and outreach, water quality at the beaches is something you can impact at the beach. Don't feed the birds, throw your trash in trash can," said Breitenbach.

For regular beach goers like Jenny Mayberry, who brings her children to the lake once a week during the summer, efforts to keep the water clean have payed off.

"I've never had any sick kids and we've been coming here for four years and I have four children 7 and under and we've never had any issues," said Mayberry.

While the water is clean enough to swim in, the Chicago Park District warns people that lake temperatures for the Memorial Day weekend remain cold.
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